Arctic Snow and Ice Controls Winter Chaos with AT&T Field Solutions

About Arctic Snow and Ice Control

From just one vehicle with a plow, Arctic Snow and Ice Control (Arctic Snow) has become a thriving multimillion-dollar business. The company services commercial customers in the Chicagoland area and throughout parts of Illinois as far north as the Wisconsin border and east to Indiana. From the moment snowflakes begin to fall, more than 450 vehicles and operators mobilize for snow and ice removal during its November-to-April busy season.

Situation

Arctic Snow mobile workers needed reliable push-to-talk communications to keep in touch while working long hours at commercial customer sites. The company also wanted a more accurate, timely way to track work hours for its hundreds of seasonal operators as well as quickly see who was available when assigning work without making individual phone calls. And when presented with potential issues at job sites, Arctic Snow wanted to document these situations with photos for quicker resolutions.

Solution

Arctic Snow workers rely heavily on the AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk (EPTT) service to reliably and quickly communicate during the most challenging weather conditions. Actsoft® from AT&T enables workers to clock-in-and-out for accurate time reporting, saving Arctic Snow a conservative $250,000 each season. Dispatchers can issue hundreds of work orders in minutes, easily track crews throughout the day and react to unforeseen emergencies. With pdvConnect pro from AT&T, foremen document issues with voice messages and photos, helping to reduce potential disputes and improve customer relations.


Let It Snow

The Midwest is no stranger to snowfall, as demonstrated by the 2013-14 winter, one of the five snowiest seasons on record. Yet some of the highest recorded snowfalls occurred in the late 1970s, when entrepreneur Randy Strait founded Arctic Snow and Ice Control to provide reliable professional snow and ice removal services to his commercial customers. Since then, Arctic Snow has grown into one the largest businesses of its kind in the Midwest with a reputation for preparedness, thorough services and customer responsiveness.

Arctic Snow makes full use of the non-winter months by keeping its one-of-a-kind snow removal equipment in top-notch form. Once snow season begins, the company teams with a weather monitoring service that prevents any storm from getting a head start. And when flakes start to fall, Arctic Snow provides “down to the pavement” clearing, salting where necessary and snow relocation when snowfalls are particularly heavy.

The company also embraces innovation to increase efficiency and save customers money, such as using non-sodium de-icing products to protect client landscapes and a patented sectional plow – developed by founder Randy Strait.

“Innovation is equally important when it comes to managing our constantly moving workers and equipment,” said Rick Bell, general manager. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the ‘science’ of snow removal.”

Snowball Effect

When Bell joined Arctic Snow, he knew its paper-based reporting system had to go. Operators would return to the office at the end of their shifts with forms in-hand detailing the services provided and the materials used, along with the properties cleared and the duration of time spent.

“With all the paper, I knew our records couldn’t be 100% accurate,” explained Bell. “If each worker’s paperwork was off even by 15 minutes each day, with 450 workers those extra few minutes added up to a significant amount of time.”

Arctic Snow was also having a flurry of problems with its existing push-to-talk service. “Having reliable push-to-talk communication is a must for our business,” said Bell. “And when conditions change quickly, it becomes even more important. Many times we just couldn’t communicate.”

Bell contacted AT&T, but it was already October, just a month before the busy season. “It was a huge risk, but something had to be done,” said Bell. “We just couldn’t continue on the same path.”

He challenged the AT&T team to provide all workers with the AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk service integrated with Actsoft from AT&T, a mobile resource management solution that automated the company’s time reporting process and provided valuable GPS tracking of vehicles – all in less than a month.

“Our AT&T account team sat down with me and promised me the world,” said Bell. “And they delivered.”

Flurry of Solutions

The team developed a plan that pre-loaded all smartphones with the EPTT and Actsoft software, then shipped to Arctic Snow for activation and deployment to workers. “Boxes and boxes of 450 rugged smartphones arrived and I started firing them up,” said Bell. “Our account rep came by every day for a couple of weeks to make sure everything was going well. They had about two-and-a-half weeks to deliver, so I was pretty impressed.”

As the first inches began to accumulate, the AT&T mobility applications were put to the test. “AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk blew me away by its clarity. It is unbelievable how clear it is and how reliable it’s been,” said Bell.

With just 15 supervisors overseeing more than 400 workers during the peak season, pinpointing resources is challenging during the best of times. Arctic Snow relies on its AT&T mobility communications when shifts are long, operating conditions are stressful and visibility is compromised. For example, with the Actsoft application, a dispatcher can identify an operator’s location to help a foreman manage timelines or re-route resources.

Perhaps even more important is the company’s ability to give customers reliable information on the arrival of snow and ice removal teams. In sub-zero temperatures, even the best maintained equipment can be temperamental. Non-contractual clients can pop-up from time-to-time with emergencies. Previously cleared parking lots can drift over from blowing snow, or standing water can turn into ice when temperatures dip. With change as the only constant, the ability to instantly identify resources and re-deploy those that are close-by or most available minimizes unnecessary danger and maximizes customer satisfaction.

In a Matter of Minutes

Accurate time reporting has also been achieved with the Actsoft application on workers’ smartphones. “When a storm is approaching, I get into the office, many times in the middle of the night, to start sending workers their orders,” said Bell. “What once took four dispatchers hours to do now only takes a couple of us a total of 45 minutes.” With the Actsoft electronic job board, dispatchers also know exactly what orders have been worked, which sites are currently being worked and what’s left to do.

Using EPTT, supervisors contact workers throughout the busy day. Bell added, “I really like EPTT’s flexibility. I can set up groups of any size – two or 200 workers. If I want a group to be able to talk only to a specific group, I can do it.”

Because operators are “on-the-clock” when they arrive at jobsites, not a minute is overlooked when they use the Actsoft time-stamp feature that is verified by the GPS location data. Arctic Snow pays weekly, so if an operator fails to clock-in, historical records based on locational data can be consulted to verify wages; instantaneous reporting means no paycheck delays. The GPS reports also help Arctic Snow know exactly when workers arrived on job sites and when they left to help answer any billing questions from customers.

Bell estimates the company is saving $250,000 per season in labor costs because of the pinpoint accuracy of time reporting. This can amount to as much as $500,000 during a heavy snowfall winter. And AT&T offers seasonal billing so that Arctic Snow only pays for services on devices that are used during the off-season. “After April, we only need 18 smartphones using the AT&T applications,” said Bell. “This is one more way that AT&T exceeds our expectations.”

Spotlight on Snow

Another AT&T solution is helping Arctic Snow resolve issues and serve its customers better. Using pdvConnect pro from AT&T, foremen can voice record field issues coupled with photo documentation to ensure incident authentication. Each field incident sent to the pdvConnect Command Console is stamped with date and location with the ability to report and archive field events.

“If we inadvertently damage a customer’s fence at 2 a.m. due to a lack of visibility, we can send an email with the photo for the customer when he gets in,” explained Bell. “We take responsibility for the damage and assure the customer that repairs will be made.”

At the same time, a foreman may arrive at a location with a pre-existing issue that needs to be documented. “A photo of a semi’s tire tracks that ran over a tree during a storm avoids culpability for our company,” said Bell. “Because liability issues may be tied to the time service was delivered or how thorough the service was, visual records can be extremely useful.”

Photos can also be helpful on the most routine matters. Arctic Snow has salt supplies sprinkled throughout its Chicagoland service area. When supplies run low, a foreman can snap a photo with the briefest of voice memos – such as “I need two loads” – then send them off to the dispatcher and move on to more pressing matters. The pdvConnect application ranks the messages’ importance, so the dispatcher can prioritize and address the most pressing issues first.

Bell plans to continuously fine-tune the use of AT&T mobility solutions for the business. “In the snow removal business, everything happens very fast,” he explained. “It’s impossible to plan for an event, but with real-time data and communication, we can manage it. With the three AT&T mobile applications working together, we can successfully control the chaos.”


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